Sawbuck Gamer

Bonsai Worlds

Hurry Up And Relax

Bonsai Worlds demands you do nothing, and fast.

By Steve Heisler • May 20, 2013

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap game ($10 or less).

Bonsai gardens are as mentally taxing as they are physically: not very. But that’s the point. If you prune your plant every so often with miniature scissors to escape the mania of everyday life, letting your brain drift to a place of pure routine, then new ideas might sprout from the calm. It’s boring and slow with purpose.

Bonsai Worlds is an internet-savvy version of the exercise—meaning it’s fast as hell. The singular focus of tending to a solitary plant is replaced by hectic care for a small village, which grows as you frantically click green grass into existence, replacing an infinite void of nothingness. Hesitate even for a second and the trees or houses that have sprung up are replaced by brown, withering squares. The population of your town shrinks when you aren’t quick enough on the draw. Later, you can take a moment to insert rocks, which take seconds to spring into mountains. This is the digital equivalent of raking your rock garden with decisive and patient strokes. Only, like before, you have about two seconds to do this before EVERYTHING DIES.

The first few rounds of Bonsai Worlds feel fruitless. Much like apathetically scrolling through a Twitter feed, it’s an empty way to devour time without getting anything done. But unlike Twitter, or the rest of the internet for that matter, there’s no illusion of productivity. Your mind wanders to distant places for a while, you realize how much of your day has gone by, and you return to work, refreshed and reinvigorated. And the garden’s always there, if you need it.

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5 Responses to “Hurry Up And Relax”

  1. Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

    Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always compared the worthiness of games to my own personal pen-and-paper activity: drawing maps of imaginary places.  If a game is more fun than that, I’d play it.  If a game is less fun than that, I’d just draw a map instead.  This game seems as if it was purposefully designed to mock my inner rubric with a stalemate.

  2. JohnGames says:

    I am uncertain if Steve realized the joy of watching it go into crisis.  After I had the land grown as I liked, with mountains, rivers, and lakes. I set it loose to the people and watched them thrive, once all the wood was gone it started to all die, but then forests returned, and people fluctuated in population.  It is a wonderful cycle to observe as they never learn.

    • B.K. says:

      I actually had my population go extinct and had to re-seed the land with humans. Interesting simulation. I wish the idiots would learn a bit through generations though.

  3. JosephHilgard says:

    Seems like only half an idea yet.  The arbitrarily limited mana/time and time counter seems to make you think this is some sort of strategic race against time.  In truth, it’s more of a tiny sandbox that you can turn on a half-baked race of people to go extinct in and not much else.  Even the rocks don’t seem to do anything besides turn into molehills or mountains, which don’t interact with the people like forests do.  Really just an engine demo, if you ask me.